Secretary Johnson pressured by Jamie Oliver to clean up school lunches
This UK Guardian story reports on a new initiative led by British Education Secretary Alan Johnson to remove the unhealthy junk food options from school lunches in an effort to help curb the rise in obesity in the UK after feeling pressure from popular UK television cooking icon Jamie Oliver.
Secretary Johnson admitted that the school lunch program in UK schools has seen an "under-investment" for far too long and that this new effort will show a renewed interest in the health and wellbeing of the future generations of Brits.
"If you put the investment in, which we're doing, if you insist on the quality and you insist that our kids can no longer be given the kind of rubbish that they have been given for decades, you will find the contractors," he said.
Of course, Oliver has got to be grinning from ear to ear at Johnson's proclamation since he has been urging the UK government to do something about the food served to children in schools through his FeedMeBetter.com web site, which attracted nearly 300,000 signatures petitioning the government to offer better food choices for school lunches after he proved it could be done for merely 37 pence per child in a personal televised experiment in a British school.
Beginning in the Fall 2008, British elementary school students will be served "nutrient-based" meals that will provide "the essential vitamins and minerals" for kids, including a maximum of two servings of chips each week and a minimum of two servings of fruits and vegetables at every single meal. High school students in the UK will change menus beginning in the Fall 2009.
Not surprisingly, some of the principals at the schools are balking at this idea of introducing healthier food options for the kids because they think the students will find a way around the new rules.
"At the end of the day, schools can offer two portions of fruit and veg with every meal, but there is no requirement for students to eat it," one naysayer to this idea exclaimed. "They can still bring in a packed lunch full of crisps and junk food from home. The only way to reverse the obesity trend is through the food industry and through the education of both parents and students."
In response, Secretary Johnson said that will be the challenge of the new initiative, to make the meals "more attractive and healthier" for kids while simultaeously helping them to understand why eating this way is better than the junk food they have been fed in school previously.
Kids are gonna eat pretty much whatever is put in front of them. If the reason school lunches have suffered with junk food is because of financial constraints, then why hasn't someone before Oliver attempted to be creative with the food to make it BOTH affordable and nutritious? Have we just thrown our hands up in the air and given up because of money?
The last time I checked, school lunches are VERY cheap. Almost too cheap. When I was a substitute teacher a few years ago, the teacher meal was $2.25 and consisted of carbs, carbs, and more carbs with a slab of mystery meat something. I ended up bringing my own lunch because I could do so much better even if I did have to pay a little more for it.
Unfortunately, kids don't always have this luxury and are stuck eating what is put in front of them. That's why this move to healthier food options is a good thing. Kids who would otherwise eat whatever is thrown in front of them will now have no choice but to eat what they are given and it will be good for them, too.
I don't think we need to go giving kids tofu, brussel sprouts, and celery sticks, but a meal consisting of grilled chicken, green beans, cauliflower, and strawberries and cream for dessert would be a much better choice that I don't think they'll stick their nose up in the air about! And the recent move to get rid of sodas and other sugary drinks is a good step in the right direction. Now let's take it that one step further to the school lunches.
How about this turn of events in the UK regarding providing healthier options for kids in schools? Do you think we could convince Secretary Johnson's counterpart in the United States -- U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings -- to consider doing the same thing in American schools?
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
I think she needs to hear from Americans in a grassroots campaign effort just like the one started by Jamie Oliver in the UK. Who could we get to lead the effort in this country -- perhaps George Stella maybe? I'm sure he could come up with some delicious and inexpensive meals for the kiddies to eat and eat healthy!
Why don't we urge Secretary Spellings to declare "no more rubbish" in America's schools, too! Although she does not have an e-mail address, you can still call her at the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-USA-LEARN (1-800-872-5327), fax her a letter at (202) 401-0689, or write a snail-mail letter to U.S. Department of Education, c/o Secretary Margaret Spellings, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202. Let her hear from you TODAY if you want to see what is happening in the UK with healthier food choices in school lunches to come to the U.S.